How Does Physical Therapy Work?

If you have an injury or condition that affects your balance, strength, or mobility, physical therapy can help. Visit to learn how PT works, what you can expect from treatment sessions, and when to seek a specialist.Physical Therapy

Your first appointment begins with a subjective conversation about your symptoms and habits that may have led to them. This is followed by a physical assessment using functional tests.

Physical Therapy is a healthcare profession that specializes in improving the mobility of people with illness, injury or disability. Physical therapists, or PTs, are trained in diagnosing and treating medically-related movement issues such as pain, swelling and other symptoms that interfere with your ability to move and function normally. They are healthcare professionals licensed by the state in which they work.

A physical therapist works with you to improve your mobility, manage pain and other symptoms, and prevent future problems. They can treat conditions affecting the muscles, bones, joints, nerves, and other soft tissues of the body. PTs also use specific exercises and other hands-on treatments, called manual therapy, to help improve your strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance.

The first time you see your PT, they will evaluate your condition. They will ask about your symptoms, how you’re managing them, and any other health concerns you may have. Then they will develop a treatment plan to help you reach your goals. Your PT may want to talk with other healthcare providers who are involved in your care, like your doctor or cardiologist.

You may be referred to a PT by your doctor or you can choose to make an appointment on your own. You can have PT without a referral, but you should check your insurance policy to find out whether your provider requires a physician’s prescription to pay for services.

After graduating with a degree in physical therapy (DPT), physical therapists complete a minimum of two clinical experiences before being licensed by the state in which they practice. Physical therapists may also choose to become board-certified specialists in specific fields of physical therapy. Certification requires additional training, experience, and a passing exam.

PT can help older adults reduce their risk of falls and improve their strength and balance, which can keep them active and independent for longer. Your PT can also help you identify and manage fall risk factors in your home, and teach you how to safely get up and down the stairs. They can also teach you what to do if you have a fall, so you can call for help quickly.


Your physical therapist will evaluate your symptoms and perform a thorough physical examination. This includes watching you move and observing your posture, as well as hands-on evaluations of your joints and muscles. They will also use special tests, like measuring your range of motion or muscle strength. These tests are a necessary part of the physical therapy evaluation process, as they help your therapist pinpoint problem areas and identify potential solutions.

The evaluative process is also the time when your PT will determine if they have a good reason to recommend physical therapy, which is an important step in the insurance approval process for Medicare beneficiaries. To do this, a therapist must complete an extensive evaluation that covers a patient’s diagnosis and prognosis of improvement, as well as their short-term and long-term goals.

As a part of the evaluative process, a physical therapist will check for “red flags” and “yellow flags.” Red flags are medically defined as signs that a patient may be at risk of poor outcomes. Yellow flags, on the other hand, are psychologically based, including a patient’s negative beliefs and expectations about treatment and their anxiety or fears. These factors are often overlooked or misunderstood in primary health care, and they are crucial to predicting clinical outcomes and optimizing a patients’ recovery.

Once they have collected all of this subjective and objective data, a physical therapist will then write an assessment report. This report contains a summary of the findings and a description of how they will treat the patient. This report is also used for documentation purposes and meets behind-the-scenes regulatory requirements.

To help a physical therapist complete their evaluation, they will use a system of codes known as Current Procedural Terminology (CPT). These codes indicate how complex or simple a therapist found the examination to be.

Functional testing is a vital tool for physical therapists, as it provides a method to reliably quantify the effectiveness of treatment and gauge patient improvement over time. It is an excellent way to engage patients in their own care, which can lead to improved compliance and better outcomes. MWTherapy is proud to offer a full suite of clinical software tools, including functional outcome measures and a patient-facing patient portal, that can facilitate this type of analysis.


A physical therapist will likely give you a series of exercises that can help improve your mobility, balance and strength. These exercises will be performed during your sessions with the PT but will only have the most positive effect if you regularly practice them at home as well. The PT may also teach you techniques that will allow you to perform your daily activities with less pain or injury.

A specialized form of physical therapy called vestibular rehabilitation can help with concussion and other conditions that affect balance, vision, and mobility. Other techniques that a therapist may use include muscle stimulation (e-stim) to stimulate the muscles of the affected area, cryogenic treatment (using cold packs or infrared heat) to reduce inflammation and joint mobilization to relieve pain and promote movement of scar tissue.

Injuries are rarely just physically painful — there’s often a mental health component as well. The best PTs are aware of this and take the time to build an emotional bond with their patients, which can make all the difference in a successful recovery.

Whether your injury is due to an accident, chronic back or neck pain or surgery, a good PT will provide hands-on treatment and educate you on how to prevent future injuries. They will also recommend lifestyle adjustments that will allow you to enjoy a full life while managing your condition.

In some cases, your doctor will refer you directly to a physical therapist without prescribing a medication. However, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor about the best therapist for you, what kind of insurance coverage you might have and how frequently you should attend sessions. It’s also a good idea to bring any records or notes from your other healthcare providers to the first session with your new therapist. This will save you time and ensure your therapist has the most accurate information possible for your treatment plan. You may also want to ask about the therapist’s cancellation or no-show policy.


Physical therapy is a medical specialty that diagnoses and treats conditions or injuries that affect the musculoskeletal system, such as bones, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. The main goal is to reduce pain, improve mobility and strength, and prevent future injury. To start receiving PT, you must have a referral from your doctor and an appointment scheduled at a clinic that offers the type of treatment you require. Your therapist will develop an initial examination, which may include testing your range of motion and asking you questions about how your symptoms affect your daily life. It’s important to communicate honestly with your therapist and share any concerns you have about your recovery so they can develop a treatment plan that will work for you.

Your therapist will likely use techniques to reduce pain and swelling in the affected area, including massage, heat or cold treatments, ultrasound, and joint mobilization. They will also teach you exercises and stretches to do at home, which are vital in helping you recover. You’ll need to do these on a regular basis in order to achieve maximum benefits from your therapy.

During follow-up sessions, your therapist will assess how you’re progressing. They will continue to modify your treatment and give you new exercises that will help with your healing process. If they believe you need special equipment at home, they will either provide it for you or tell you where to get it. They will also check in with your doctor to ensure your health care team is on the same page.

It’s common to feel like you’re improving after a few sessions, so it can be tempting to stop going. However, it’s best to stick with your program for the full length of time recommended by your therapist. If you don’t, you might end up back where you started or worse.

It’s important to find a therapist you trust and connect with. Look for someone who is compassionate, supportive, and knowledgeable about the body. They should make you feel at ease so you can focus on getting better. Contact us today to learn more about our therapists and the programs they can design for you.